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US red meat exports pushing record pace through 3Q21

08 November 2021

Both US beef and pork exports are on a record pace through September, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef exports posted one of the best months on record in September, with value climbing nearly 60% above last year. Pork export volume was slightly below last September, but value still increased 8%.

Beef exports continued to soar in September at 123,628 metric tons (mt), up 20% from a year ago and the fourth largest volume of the post-BSE era. Export value jumped 59% to $954.1 million – the second highest month on record, trailing only August 2021. For the first three quarters of 2021, beef exports increased 18% from a year ago to 1.08 million mt, valued at $7.58 billion – up more than $2 billion (36%) from the same period last year. Compared to the record year of 2018, January-September exports were 7% higher in volume and up 24% in value.

Pork exports totaled 219,687 mt in September, down 1% from a year ago, but value was 8% higher at $608.3 million. For January through September, exports were 1% above last year’s record pace at 2.24 million mt, while value climbed 9% to $6.23 billion.

“Facing significant logistical headwinds and higher costs, these outstanding results are really a testament to the loyalty and strong demand from our international customers and to the innovation and determination of the U.S. industry,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom.

Variety meat exports a bright spot in 2021

Halstrom explained that a rebound in pork and beef variety meat exports, which took a step back last year amid COVID-related production obstacles, has been a strong source of momentum in 2021, reflecting exceptional global demand for high-value protein.

“The increase in the variety meat capture rate, and the resulting increase in exports, is especially encouraging because the labor and transportation challenges certainly have not gone away,” Halstrom explained. “But these items are commanding a strong premium overseas, making it more feasible to get them into international commerce. Variety meat exports are a great complement to our strong domestic and international demand for muscle cuts, helping maximize carcass value.”

China’s demand for U.S. pork variety meat has remained strong even as muscle cut exports to China have eased, helping push total January-September pork variety meat exports 17% above last year to 405,744 mt, valued at $949.1 million (up 26%). Beef variety meat exports, led by strong increases in Japan, Mexico, Central and South America and the ASEAN region, were 10% above last year at 226,755 mt, with value up 19% to $762.2 million.

Beef exports on pace to top $2 billion in three Asian markets

Beef exports to leading market Japan posted a strong performance in September at just under 30,000 mt, up 24% from a year ago, valued at $215.8 million (up 73%). This pushed January-September results 5% above last year at 246,380 mt, valued at $1.72 billion (up 17%).

Japan, South Korea and China/Hong Kong are all on track to be $2 billion destinations for U.S. beef in 2021, with strong growth in chilled beef exports to Japan and Korea. Through September, chilled beef exports to Japan neared 120,000 mt, up 17%, with value up 25% to $1 billion. Chilled exports to Korea were up 25% in volume (65,600 mt) and 50% in value ($744 million).

Total September beef exports to Korea were 23,363 mt, up 9% from a year ago, while value soared 67% to $207.5 million. Through the third quarter, exports to Korea were up 12% in volume (213,326 mt) and 30% in value ($1.71 billion). COVID-related restrictions on restaurants and other foodservice outlets were recently eased in both Japan and Korea, which should provide further momentum for U.S. exports.

China has been a major source of growth for U.S. beef exports in 2021, with exports through September climbing 672% from a year ago to 138,041 mt, while export value was up 761% to $1.12 billion. Combined exports to China and Hong Kong were up 131% through September at 176,694 mt, valued at $1.49 billion – already shattering the previous value record of $1.15 billion set in 2014.

Other January-September highlights for U.S. beef exports include:

  • Beef demand in Mexico continues to rebound from last year’s low totals. Exports through September reached 147,719 mt, up 17% year-over-year, while value climbed 40% to $768 million, but these results were still below the pre-COVID levels reached in 2019.
  • Taiwan has been another big growth market for chilled U.S. beef, with volume up 22% to 24,366 mt and value reaching $313 million (up 36%). U.S. beef accounts for more than 80% of Taiwan’s chilled imports. Total U.S. beef exports to Taiwan were up 14% in value to $472.7 million, although volume eased 3% to 47,000 mt.
  • Led by a strong increase in Indonesia and larger shipments to the Philippines, beef exports to the ASEAN region climbed 23% from a year ago to 43,567 mt, while value was up 30% to $223.8 million.
  • A strong rebound in Colombia and increased demand in Chile and Peru pushed exports to South America 24% higher than a year ago at 22,265 mt, valued at $118.4 million (up 71%). Peru is a top destination for U.S. beef variety meat exports, with January-September volume totaling 6,625 mt – up 2% from last year’s strong level and the fastest pace since 2014.
  • Strong retail demand in several markets, notably Guatemala (5,712 mt, up 50%) and Costa Rica (3,375 mt, up 96%), helped put beef exports to Central America on a record pace at 14,896 mt, up 61% from a year ago, while value soared 89% to $91.5 million.
  • September beef export value equated to $447.46 per head of fed slaughter, up 63% from a year ago. For the first three quarters of the year, export value averaged $389.08 per head (up 32%). Exports accounted for 15.7% of total September beef production and 13% for muscle cuts, up substantially from last year’s ratios of 12.8% and 10.5%, respectively. Through September, exports accounted for 15.1% of total beef production and 12.8% for muscle cuts, each up nearly two full percentage points from a year ago.

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